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Comics as academic texts? - NOW PUBLISHED
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:33 am    Post subject: Comics as academic texts? - NOW PUBLISHED Reply with quote

Hi everybody! First time poster ... er, first time listener too.

Boy, is it hard to find research into the comic/graphic novel. Until I discovered Scott McCloud's website, which had some great links (which in turn had more links), I was coming up very dry ... so, it came as no small relief when I found this board.

Anyways, I know as a newbie, it's generally not cool to ask for help, but quite clearly, you guys have been immersed in this longer than I have, so I'm going to swallow my cyber-pride and just ask.

I am in my Honours year at university, and I've been given the green light to present my dissertation in comic book/graphic novel form(!!)

Basically, what I am trying to do is assess whether or not the comic is a form capable of sustaining this genre of writing. Whether or not the word/image interplay is strong enough to present the same information (or more information) as an ordinary thesis, which is of course, typically text only.

My research question:



The academic thesis is a form presented predominantly as text only, conveying information purely through the rigid syntactic structure of written language, with possibly an annotated graph or chart to supplement the text.

There are plenty of instances in everyday life where we rely upon visual cues, symbols and images for crucial information, information that would be impossible, inefficient or impractical to present textually. It is perhaps not a stretch then to say that perhaps the academic thesis’ potential is being restricted by confining its contents to the strictly coded textual language it employs.

There are plenty of communication theorists who argue in favour of presenting information using both pictures and words, not just as supplements to each other, but in true symbiosis, each form complementing the other, and covering the other’s weaknesses in conveying information.

The graphic novel is a relatively new media form. Its basic mandate is to combine pictures and words in certain ways, with the ultimate goal to convey information that could not be expressed by one or the other. It is a form
ready-made to address the concerns raised by these theorists.

There are concerns, though, with the level of visual literacy exhibited by the general populace, including even those who have grown up with visual media such as television, cinema and computer games, as well as picture books and heavily illustrated non-fiction texts. The dynamic ambiguity contained within visual cues such as pictures has raised doubts about the image’s capacity to convey complicated concepts clearly.

To what extent could these concerns impact upon the creation of an
academic graphic novel that presents information in such a way that neither text nor pictures are subordinate to the other, and in a way that is easily accessible and unambiguous, without sacrificing the complexity of the concepts and issues contained within?



At the moment, I have read Scott McCloud's Understanding and Making Comics both, and am in the process of tracking down Reinventing Comics. I have read quite a lot of cognitive studies and media literacy theorists, and a bit on art appreciation and the way the eye works.

Basically, I am looking for more research into the comic side of things, and if anyone knows anything that might be relevant/useful, please, if you wouldn't mind posting it here, I would greatly appreciate it! Also, if this has been done before (I'm not counting the 9/11 Report adaptation at this stage, because I don't think it accomplished the goals I outlined ), I should probably know that sooner rather than later.

Hi from Australia, and thanks!

Shane Smith
kryten3@hotmail.com


Last edited by canberra_boy on Sat Oct 27, 2007 9:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jason Alderman
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2007 12:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi, Shane,

I'm surprised that Neil hasn't posted a reply to this yet. :) He's usually all over this stuff.

Am I reading correctly that your thesis research topic (to see if an academic subject can be presented in comics form and still communicate the crux of it without ambiguity) is also going to be the subject of your comic? That's quite ...meta.

If you're looking for comics that convey academic topics, Scott McCloud is definitely a good place to start. You probably don't need to hunt down Reinventing Comics (Scott himself will tell you that); it's more of a manifesto, a call to arms to artists from all walks of life to draw and deliver comics digitally, sprinkled with bits of internet history. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but it's a work that's more tied to a particular point in time, and you probably won't find that it adds much to UC and MC, at least as far as your thesis is concerned.

As far as prior art for such a thing, I know one of my old classmates was planning to do her PhD dissertation (on film theory) in comics form, last I heard. And some googling finds Brian Scott's thesis in architecture at McGill, in comics form. I'm sure there are a slew of others out there, although you'll probably find more art theses in comics form than other types of degrees.

Other noteworthy theses/dissertations on comics that might help...


(I did my Masters thesis in comics as well, but it's not so relevant to what you're doing. Feel free to look through the research, though, if it helps.)

Good luck, Shane. Please post again with news of how it's going!

jason
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Jason,

Thanks for all the links!

I've been in contact with Neil by email, and I've managed to track down pretty much all of his work (I think)

In the last month, I've read all Scott McCloud's stuff, most of Neil's, and I've been reading a bit on the history of comics (as in periodical publications, not as in juxtaposed images in sequence ) and my question has sort of evolved a bit.

Instead of looking at the question in a simple "can it be done?" way, I want to explore a "(why) should it be done?" kind of angle.



For the moment, I've split the question into three parts:

1) Social perception of comics (would this attempt gain general acceptance within an academic field [right now, my research is indicating a strong NO])

2) Practical limitations (printing costs, publishing issues, etc associated with a thesis that isn't text-only; efficiency of time to produce, etc)

3) Form limitations (including audience familiarity with comics [ie. could they decipher a complicated visual metaphor or unorthodox page layout])


It definitely helps knowing there are examples of comic-form dissertations available to help me see where I'm going, so big thanks for that! No doubt my focus will have changed again by the time I finish reading them, so at this stage nothing is irrelevant


Thanks once again. Will post again soon

Shane
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Neil Cohn
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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My initial thought is that doing academic texts in this form would be great for conveying information concisely and effectively. That's why we did our non-fiction political book in graphic form, and why Larry Gonick's books sell pretty well (I don't have a link handy... google him).

My guess as to why more aren't done this way: 1) there isn't any viable software to make easily editible and revisible visual documents (I have ideas for this one... any ambitious programmers out there want to contact me?). 2) Not enough people are graphically fluent enough to be able to create them.
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 9:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry I haven't posted an update in a while. This may (not) come as a tremendous shock, but I've changed my direction a bit (read: a lot) since my last post.

Things are basically finalised now, so all I have to do is make the thing.

TITLE: ACADEMAESTHETICS

Here is my official 100 word research question:

Twentieth-century perceptions have been unfavourable to both the comic book and the essay. Scott McCloud identifies the limitless potential of the comic; yet, comics are generally regarded as being one-dimensional juvenile sensationalism. Meanwhile, Peter Hohendahl and Harold Simonson see a decline in the popularity of the essay as reading material, because it lacks the aesthetic and emotional appeals of fiction. By analysing the reasons for these outcomes, and presenting an academic essay about them, in the comic form, I aim to challenge many popular notions about the comic and the essay, and rejuvenate them both.

Basically I am using the essay and comic in conjunction with each other to counter the prejudices that plague both forms. This is done in two ways: one way is explicit with the text; the other is shown (with varying degrees of subtlety) in the visuals.

If you want to learn more, you can find what I've done thus far here: http://s9.photobucket.com/albums/a63/canberra_boy/honours/July%2007/

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I want to say in Part Two: The Comic, and I'm sorting through a huge mess of stuff I've collected from different places.

(Also hoping that I haven't misquoted you, Neil ... or anyone for that matter)
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Neil Cohn
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2007 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Shane, the essay looks like its coming along great! It's really well done, and I look forward to reading it in completion. If you plan to publish it on the web, please send me a link and I'll be sure to post it on my blog.

It looks like you've got a good handle on my points and haven't misquoted me in the least bit! My one comment is that it might help to state my alternative to the formalist definitions of "comics." It's not just that I provide an alternative definition of "comics," but that I also give an alternative to what the images/text part is too.

Plus, talking about that might give you more justification for your overall point. Instead of arguing that there should be "comics" essays, you can argue that essays can be written in "visual language" and that the stigmatization of visual language comes from its predominant usage in comics. Otherwise, you're rejecting the notion of a formalist definition of comics, but arguing that essays should be done as comics — i.e. via those formal qualities.

Keep up the good work and let me know as you're progressing!
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2007 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your comments, Neil!

In the "Visual Literacy" section of the comics part of the project, I was going to go into the "visual language" component, as distinct from comics, in much greater detail. As the clock is ticking on this dissertation, I decided that I only had time to mention everything once, and I decided it was most important there.

You're right of course - it would aid the project a great deal of credence and coherence, once I have mentioned it.

In the crudest sense, by using two languages simultaneously (ie. English, and visuals - for want of a better way to describe what I'm doing), I can achieve my goals (as outlined on page 15) of showing that a piece can be formal and informal at the same time.

Also, I feel compelled to point out that I don't necessarily believe that essays should be done as comics. I think it's valuable for this particular piece to navigate between essay and comic in this way, but it's a horrendous amount of work to produce - I certainly wouldn't wish it on anyone!

Also, update: I have now finished pages 1-10 completely, and they can be found at the above link.

Cheers!
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Neil Cohn
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2007 2:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glad to hear you're planning to go into the VL stuff more further down.

I think your point is well achieved by the approach, though I for one would love to see more essays like this. However, I definitely know how tough it is to draw/write an essay, as I've done it several times. This goes back to my want for software to make it easier. I've got ideas, just no way to implement them...

I look forward to seeing more!
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2007 12:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Phew, it's been a while, but I finally knocked the project over. Ended up being a 53 page effort.

I've submitted it for publication at a reviewed academic (online) journal, so for now, I'm going to refrain from posting the whole thing here, because I don't think it would go down too well.

Stay tuned for either a link to the published work ... or I'll find some other way to get the massive file online!

However, in the meantime, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who has posted in this thread, with links and advice! In particular, I would like to thank Neil, whose work became the backbone of my analyses of comics.

(I've applied for a PhD position, and if I get it, I intend to do something in the same style, something in which I can use some of the many helpful works to which I was linked, but couldn't fit into Academaesthetics)

That's it for now, I guess. Thanks again, everyone!
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2007 9:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm very excited today! My dissertation has just been published!

http://www.textjournal.com.au/index.htm
(Follow link: SW Smith Academaesthetics )
Or just go straight to it:
http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct07/smith.htm
Or actually straight to it:
http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct07/academaesthetics.pdf

Thanks once again to everyone who helped me put this together! I really, really appreciate it!
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Congratulations! I'll have to give that a read.
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ewomack
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 12:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting. I haven't read your dissertation all the way through, but I'm wondering if you had any difficulty getting an academic institution to accept a comic for a PhD thesis. Obviously they accepted it, but did they resist at all? This seems very unlike academia.

What I did see reminded me of Scott McCloud's work as well as the "Introducing" and "For Beginners" series. Both attempt to convey complicated ideas, such as Philosophy and Science, through the comic medium (some are more successful than others).

This must have been a lot of work, but nonetheless very fun to construct.

Congrats on the thesis.
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canberra_boy
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 5:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If my thesis had been in any other subject than Creative Communication, I think I would have been plumb out of luck getting a comic through the system. So I was very lucky in that regard. Also, my convenor is an incredibly open-minded person who was actively encouraging us to think as far outside the box as we could manage (so again, very lucky).

But on the other hand, as I mention in my work, there is a very rigid and limiting common perspective of things like academia - it is a world that is capable of producing some amazing creative work.

Thanks for your congrats! It was a tremendous amount of fun to put together
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